Historical Highlights of the Fort Smith Regional Airport

1936 – Present

1930s – 1940s

1936: The idea of a municipal airport was established, thus the beginning of the Fort Smith Municipal Airport. An Airport Advisory Committee was appointed and the Fort Smith Board of Directors purchased 320 acres with bond money.

1939: Two sod runways, each measuring 3,500 length and 100 wide were built.

1941: The first hangar was constructed at the airport.

1945: The runways were relocated and constructed of asphalt.

1947: Additional land was purchased and the two runways were expanded. This brought the north-south runway to 4,115’L x 150’W and the east-west runway to 4,600’L x 150’W.

1948: The Airport Advisory Committee was dissolved and the manager system was adopted. The airport then fell under the authority of the Public Works Commission of the City of Fort Smith.

1950s – 1960s

1950: The east-west runway was extended to 5,000 feet in length.

1951: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) moved into the Air Traffic Control Tower. This move permitted positive control of all aircraft operating into and out of the Fort Smith area.

1952: Major commercial air services began when Braniff Airways began daily service.

1954: The 188th Tactical Fighter Group of the Arkansas Air National Guard moved to the airport.

1958: The east-west runway was extended to its current length of 8,000 feet (by 150 feet wide).

1959: A new passenger terminal building was constructed. The terminal was expanded in the late 1970’s to accommodate an increase in airline travel.

1960-1977: The airport developed the majority of the taxiways and general aviation ramps.

1970s – 1980s

1976: The north-south runway was overlaid with asphalt.

1977: The Fort Smith Board of Directors created an Airport Commission. The Airport Commission sets policy and provides guidance to a full-time Airport Manager, who manages the daily operations of the airport. Originally, the commission was a 5-member body; however, the commission was expanded to a 7-member body in 1997. Commission members are appointed by the City Directors and serve on the Commission without pay for 5-year terms.

1978-1991: The airport purchased land to expand its operation and to ensure airspace safety. Currently, the Fort Smith Airport consists of approximately 1,400 acres. Additionally, during this period the airport purchased heavy equipment and vehicles for airfield maintenance and operations.

1979: The east-west runway was overlaid with asphalt.

1986: The north-south runway was extended to its current length 5,002 feet (by 150 feet wide).

1988-2002: During this 13 year period, the Fort Smith Municipal Airport reconstructed or rehabilitated the majority of the airport’s taxiways and general aviation ramps.

1990s – 2000s

1990: High Intensity Runway Lights were installed to replace the outdated system; therefore, granting greater flexibility for aircraft night operations.

1992: The airport’s name changed to “FORT SMITH REGIONAL AIRPORT.” The name designation more accurately portrayed the airport’s operations, as it served eight counties in two states while serving the air transportation needs of 220,000 regional citizens. This change required the concurrence of the FAA, the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics and the City of Fort Smith.

1996-1997: Improvements were made to both the airport’s runways. The airport’s primary runway 7/25 (east-west) underwent major rehabilitation to improve its infrastructure, and the airport’s second runway 1/19 (north-south) was overlaid with asphalt.

1999: A new state-of-the-art air traffic control tower was constructed to replace the original facility constructed in 1951.

1999: The vision of the new passenger terminal complex started to become a reality when a 10 acre ramp was constructed at the site of the new terminal complex.

2001: An airfield perimeter road was construction to enhance safety of the airfield by allowing vehicle operations to be segregated from aircraft operations.

2002: The new terminal complex was completed, and opened for airline service September 29, 2002. The new terminal complex was completed at an approximate cost of $12.8 million. The terminal complex includes the passenger terminal building and related parking lots. A new access road, McKennon Boulevard, to the terminal complex was constructed by the City of Fort Smith, with 50% Federal funding. The passenger terminal building reflects the traditional architectural heritage of Fort Smith while maintaining modern airport geometry and design efficiency. The new terminal was designed to meet current and future air traffic needs. This 52,200 square feet facility houses the airlines, rental cars, space for a cafe, as well as offices for Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Airport Administration.

2005: On February 17, 2005 the new passenger jet bridges were opened to the public. The jet bridges provide passengers with protection from the weather between the terminal building and the aircraft.

2019: Construction of a new ARFF (Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting) Station was completed.  The ARFF Station includes 3 apparatus bays, as well as office and living quarters for the chief and firefighters. 

2023: Runway 8/26 was extended to 9,318 feet.

Today the Fort Smith Regional Airport is a vital transportation venue for the River Valley and plays a strong role in the continued economic development of the City. As the community moves forward, the airport’s outlook for the future is a very bright one, filled with continuous growth.

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